San Diego Padres star Manny Machado committed the first pitch clock violation in a spring training game, getting docked a strike in the first inning because he was not set and facing the pitcher in the batter’s box when the clock reached 8 seconds.
Facing Seattle left-hander Robbie Ray in one of two games Friday that will serve as a trial run for Major League Baseball’s rules overhaul, Machado had not brought his left foot inside the batter’s box when the clock — which is prominently featured behind the batter and over the outfield fence — wound down. The home-plate umpire, Ryan Blakney, called timeout, pointed to his wrist — the signal for a clock violation — and said: “0-1.”
Machado then singled, his first of two hits on the day.
“That time came by quick,” Machado said after the game, which breezed by in 2 hours, 29 minutes, similar to the 2:33 time of Friday’s other game between the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers. “It’s definitely something we’re going to have to get used to. It kind of takes away your routine, being up there and zoning in before the pitch. The umpire gave me a little warning — ‘Hey, you got 2 seconds’ — but I was already late when I got in there.”
In last spring’s opener between the Padres and Mariners, there were three more pitching changes, four fewer hits and the game lasted 59 minutes longer. Kansas City and Texas faced each other in their 2022 spring debut, too, and used three fewer pitchers, logged one more hit and spent 44 minutes more playing.
Pitchers have 15 seconds to start their delivery when the bases are empty and 20 seconds with runners on base. They are given an automatic ball if the clock expires. The full suite of MLB’s new rules — including a ban on defensive shifting, a limitation on pickoff moves and larger bases — was on display for the first time Friday. With all 30 teams scheduled to play Saturday, Friday’s test drives showcased what the league hopes will be viewed as a new-and-improved version of the game.
Machado’s automatic strikeout was one of two violations on the day. The other came in the fifth inning when Texas left-hander John King was facing Kansas City first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino. With the count 1-2, King did not throw the ball in time, moving the count to 2-2. Pasquantino eventually walked.
“I felt bad for the pitcher, actually, because you could see it coming,” Pasquantino said. “So I was just kind of waiting. I didn’t even get ready because it was just like, ‘OK, is this about to happen?'”
Pasquantino spent half of last season in the minor leagues, where MLB tested the pitch clock at all levels. The league considered the clock the biggest success of all its potential changes, as it cut around 25 minutes off average minor league game times.
“It’s going to be an interesting year,” Machado said. “It’s going to be fun. Who knows where this leads? There’s going to be a lot of strategy that goes into this.”
The strategic elements go far beyond the clock. Pasquantino, a left-handed hitter who was shifted in 93.2% of his plate appearances last season — the seventh-highest figure in MLB, according to Statcast — whacked a single through the right side. While Pasquantino wasn’t certain the ball would’ve been gobbled up by the shift in past seasons, the return of the no-doubt pull hit for left-handed hitters, he said, could change their approaches at the plate.
Each game saw one stolen base — the distance between the bases shrunk by 4½ inches with the bases expanding from 15 inches square to 18 inches square — and umpires didn’t call any balks. After a pitcher has two “disengagements” during a plate appearance — either a pickoff attempt or a step-off — a third disengagement that does not result in an out will be ruled a balk.
But the clock drew most of the attention from managers, hitters and pitchers. “I glanced at it a couple of times, but after the first inning, I looked when I thought I might not have enough time — and I had 12 seconds left,” Royals starter Lynch said.
“Guys are going to get a little bit tired working at this pace,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “Whether it’s starters, relievers throwing a lot of pitches, there’s going to be an endurance factor with this as well.”
“It’ll take the pitchers three or four outings to get used to it,” Pasquantino said. “And for hitters, I think it’ll probably be four or five games before everybody’s kind of rolling. I think the key is that the umpires are strict on it and they were today.”
The only snafu in the Kansas City-Texas game? On one pitch, Royals reliever Josh Staumont said, the two clocks behind home plate were showing different numbers.
“It was Day 1 of spring training for the clock, too,” Pasquantino said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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